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Illinois Genealogy Resources

Ethnic Groups

See also: Chicago and Cook County: Ethnic Resources.

Ethnic Resources


Pre-statehood settlers of English and Ulster Scots descent came from Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky by way of the Ohio River, where they joined a few hundred Frenchmen already in the area. The first blacks came to Illinois in 1719 with the French, but their numbers remained few until after the Civil War. Indian tribes relinquished their last remaining Illinois lands shortly after the Black Hawk War of 1832. The Illinois State Archives has extracted names of about thirty-four hundred Africans and a few Indians from records of enslaved and free servants, masters, witnesses, and others in the French, English, and American eras of Illinois through 1863.

When Illinois became a state in 1818, most of the population lived near the waterways of southern Illinois. During the 1830s and 1840s, most settlers came from New York and New England by way of the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes or on the National Road. They settled the central and northern counties. Overseas immigration of the 1840s and 1850s was composed mainly of Germans and Irish. After the Civil War they were joined by Austrians, Hungarians, Russians, Scandinavians, Italians, and Poles.  

As a result, Illinois' population was made up of differing nationalities. Cities were favored by the Irish, even though some were employed in the construction of railroads, and many Germans and Englishmen became successful farmers. In the 1850s the northern half of the state was home to many Europeans, while the southern half had few foreigners. At the beginning of the same decade, 38,000 foreign-born Germans lived in Illinois. At the same time there were 28,000 Irish, 18,600 English and 46,000 Scottish settlers mainly in the northwestern part of the state. Germans totaling 130,804 settled in the state of Illinois by 1860, while 87,573 Irish also settled in Illinois. Chicago, Belleville, Galena, Quincy, Alton, Peoria, and Peru were home to most of the 130,804 Germans  in 1860. In the same year, the Swedish population in Illinois was about 6,470 people, but rose in 1861 to about 7,000 people, 1,300 of which were volunteers in the Civil War for the Union.

The northern half of Illinois had more immigrants than the southern half, because new settlers entered Chicago first, usually by railroad or via the Erie Canal. By 1860 the state's Scandinavian population was well over 10,000, and Norwegians mostly located around Chicago. Almost 6,000 Norwegians lived in Illinois around 1860, mostly in the northern half of the state. The rapidly growing city of Chicago showed much more prosperity and vigor in industry during the 1850s, possibly because of the larger number of immigrants in the northern half of the state as the industries were flourishing in northern Illinois. Even though Chicago was founded by the Yankees, Irish, British, and Scandinavians, immigrants came in droves between 1840 and 1890. Many Germans immigrated to Chicago because of the suppression of the democratic revolutions of the 1840s, although the Irish became the first large group of people to immigrate into Chicago after the failure of the potato crops and the problem of absentee landlords. Between 1847 and 1849 the Dutch settled in the southernmost part of Chicago. Also, many Scandinavians went to Chicago, along with fewer English, Welsh, and Scottish after the Irish and the Germans, raising their population in Chicago at the beginning of the Civil War to 112,172, with half of that number being foreign-born.

Central and southern Illinois was settled mostly by Germans, English, Swiss, and Portuguese. In Monroe, St. Clair, Madison, and Clinton counties there were many large colonies of Germans and English. Near the Madison County community of Highland a colony was established in 1831, and in 1844 more than one hundred colonists were added, making that settlement the most important Swiss center in the state. In St. Clair County in 1815, a Swiss colony from Neufchatel was established at Dutch Hill. Thirty-four years later, two hundred Protestant Portuguese exiles from Madeira, an island off the coast of Morocco, began two settlements, one on the north side of Springfield and one in Jacksonville.

Iowa was the destination of many who left Illinois in the 1850s. Illinois families also helped settle Kansas and Nebraska. Others joined the California gold rush or traveled the Oregon Trail to the Pacific Northwest.

  • Holli, Melvin G. and Peter d' A. Jones, eds., Ethnic Chicago. Grand Rapids, Michigan : William B. Eerdmans,  1985.
  • Holli, Melvin G. and Peter d' A. Jones, eds., The Ethnic Frontier: Essays in the History of Group Survival in Chicago and the Midwest. Grand Rapids, Michigan : Eerdmans, ca. 1977.
  • Ethnic and National Groups. Newberry Library.
  • Pooley, W. V. The Settlement of Illinois from 1830 to 1850
  • Rubincam, Milton. “Migrations to Illinois, 1673–1860.” In Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. (Springfield, Ill.: The Society) vol.4, no.3 (Oct. 1972):127–34.
  • White, Elizabeth Pearson. “Illinois Settlers and Their Origins.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly (Washington, D.C.: The Society) vol.74, no.1 (Mar. 1986): 7–17.
  • Whitney, Ellen M. Illinois History: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut : Greenwood Press, 1995.
  • Wyman, Mark. Immigration History and Ethnicity in Illinois: A Guide. Springfield, Illinois : Illinois Historical Society, 1989.


Many slaves arrived in Illinois from the South with their white slave owners during the early years. In September 1807 the indenture law allowed slaves aged fifteen and older to be brought into the state by their white owners. The law stated that they must be registered with the clerk of common pleas. Beginning on 8 December 1812, "free blacks" and "mulattoes" were required to register six months after they arrived in Illinois. These records are extant. Many slaves were leased from slave owners in Kentucky and Tennessee to work the salt wells near Shawneetown.

Governor Edwards declared this law illegal in 1817. As a result, the constitutional compromise of 1817 put a one-year limit on new indenture contracts.  Check the common pleas court files for freedom certificates issued after 17 January 1829. Records of African Americans in Illinois frequently gave places of origin in the slave state from which they came.



The lead mines brought the Cornish. ENGLISH There was a sizable immigration from England.  Some of it was prompted by the London Roman Catholic Emigration Society and the Mormon missionaries sent from Nauvoo by Joseph Smith.
  • Newberry Library
    60 W. Walton St.
    Chicago, IL 60610-3394
    Phone: (312) 943-9090
    - Has an extensive collection of English materials.


Although there were scattered French-Canadians in Illinois country very early, there were few immigrants from France before 1830. Metamora in Woodford County was the first important French section, established in 1831, followed by several other French settlements. Bourbonnais, in Kankakee County, with a population of 1,719 in 1850, was a French-Canadian village that maintained Canadian customs for many years.
  • The French in Illinois
  • Lareau, Paul J. and Elmer Courteau. French-Canadian Families of the North Central States: A Genealogical Dictionary. 8 volumes. St. Paul, Minnesota: Northwest Territory French and Canadian Heritage Institute, 1980.


Many German immigrants came to Illinois as affluent farmers, professionals, and artisans, and were able to continue as such in America. There were also those who came with little or no money to spare. Immigrants came via the Great Lakes to Chicago. Working in the industries of the city, they could make good wages to buy their "American" farm. Unfortunately, living costs were high, savings grew slowly, and land values rose rapidly. The "farmer" often became a city dweller. Many immigrants already in America lived in poverty, and a job on the railroad was a way to get to the west to start a new life. From New York fifteen hundred German immigrants came to work on the railroad. Men with families were the most popular recruits. The Illinois Central Railroad hoped that family life would expand in Illinois and the new cities would benefit economically. This occurred most dramatically in the once-small city of Chicago. The construction of the railroad attracted many industries to Chicago, increasing its population quickly in the late 1800s. Many of the German immigrants worked until they made enough money so they could buy land and have their own property. As the Germans bought land, new settlements grew along the railroads, as well as German churches in cities such as Galena, Champaign, Anna, Centralia, Dixon, and other railroad cities. In 1860 and 1861 three German communities were formed in Will and Effingham Counties. This brought in Germans who came to Illinois for the railroad, but to live with their fellow Germans. They came and moved into the German settlements. Sixty-nine Germans from Niagara Falls settled in Effingham County, and the settlement quickly grew to eighty families. The Germans were excellent farmers and the rich farmland helped them become very prosperous. One third of the foreign-born population in Illinois in 1850 was German. Religious, political, and economic factors caused the massive migration. Some of the earliest German settlements were in Dutch Hollow and Darmstadt, St. Clair County. The detailed church records of German-American churches must be utilized in Cook County.


Many Irish stayed in the cities, employed as day laborers or factory workers. They moved from place to place within the state, but by 1860 the nucleus of the Irish immigrant community was in Chicago. Many Irish worked on the construction of the Illinois and Michigan canal system. When this project was temporarily abandoned in the early 1840s, large numbers of Irish became farmers.
  • DePaul University
    Lincoln Park Campus Library
    2323 N. Seminary
    Chicago, Illinois 60614
    - Has an Irish studies collection
  • Irish American Heritage Center
    4626 N. Knox Ave.
    Chicago, IL 60630
  • Newberry Library
    60 W. Walton St.
    Chicago, IL 60610-3394
    Phone: (312) 943-9090
    - Has an extensive collection of Irish materials.


There was a cluster of Bavarian Jews in Chicago.
  • Cutler, Irving: "The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb". In Ethnic Chicago (eds. Melvin Holli & Peter d'A Jones). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1981 & 1984. "The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb". A volume in the series The Ethnic History of Chicago. (ed. Melvin Holli). Urbana and Chicago, Illinois. University of Illinois Press, 1996.
  • Eastwood, Carolyn. Chicago's Jewish Street Peddlers: Toehold on the Bottom Rung. Chicago : Jewish Historical Society, 1991.
  • Fleishaker, Oscar. The Illinois-Iowa Jewish Community on the Banks of the Mississippi River. 1957.
  • Illiana Jewish Genealogical Society
    P.O. Box 384
    Flossmoor, IL 60422-0384
  • Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois
    P.O. Box 515
    Northbrook, IL 60065-0515
  • Jewish Genealogical Society
    1328 W. Randolph St.
    Chicago, IL
    Phone: (312)666-0100
  • Mazur, E.: "Jewish Chicago: from Diversity to Community". In Ethnic Chicago (eds. Melvin Holli and Peter d'A. Jones), Grand Rapids, Michigan : Eerdmans, 1984.


  • Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture
    6500 S. Pulaski
    Chicago, Illinois 60629
  • Death Notices From Lithuanian Newspapers, 1900–1979. Chicago, Ill.: Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture; Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1979. This is a microfilm of a card file of obituaries from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, and several states. Other countries are also included.


  • Witry, Richard J. Luxembourg Brotherhood of America, 1887 - 1987. Chicago: 1987.

Native American


The first Norwegian settlement in the Midwest was founded by a group from New York in 1834, along the Fox River near Ottawa.


  • Haller’s Army Index - Name Index. During World War I, soldiers for the Polish Army in France, commonly called Haller’s Army, were recruited among Poles living in the U.S. Two forms that contain genealogical information were filled out by the recruits. Form A contains the volunteer’s name, address, and marital status; the number of children he had; how his family would be supported if he was accepted into service; whether or not he was a U.S. citizen; his age, physical description, and signature; the recruiting station; and the date. Form C contains additional information, such as the volunteer’s date and place of birth; the address of his closest relative in America and in Poland; his previous military service; and remarks. All volumes of the collection are available through:
    PGS of America
    ATTN: Haller’s Army Request
    984 N. Milwaukee Ave.
    Chicago, IL 60622
  • Martin Joseph F. "Early Polish Immigrants Settled in Southern Illinois." Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly 41:3, 139-143.

  • Polish Genealogical Society of America
    984 N. Milwaukee Ave.
    Chicago, IL 60622
  • Portage-Cragin Branch Library
    Polish Collection
    5108 W. Belmont Ave.
    Chicago, Illinois 60641


Colonies of religiously exiled Portuguese immigrants were located at Springfield and Jacksonville in 1849.
  • Langum, David J. Sr. Antonio de Mattos and the Protestant Portuguese Community in Antebellum Illinois. Jacksonville, Illinois: Morgan County Historical Society, 2006.


In 1834 the Scottish began migrating to Illinois, their numbers in 1850 totaling 4,660. SLOVAK / CZECH


Five hundred Swedes established themselves at Bishop Hill in Henry County.
  • Swedish-American Historical Society
    3228 N. Foster Ave. / Box 48
    Chicago, IL 60625
    Phone: (773) 583-5722
    - Publishes The Swedish Pioneer Historical Quarterly. Their collections include letters, family histories, organization records, newspapers, diaries, books, oral histories, reference files, and photographs.
  • Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center
    Augustana College, 639 38th St.
    Rock Island, IL 61201-2296
    Phone: (309)794-7204
    Fax: (309)794-7443
    - Has immigrant letters and immigrant indexes, church papers, a large collection of Swedish-American newspapers, and a significant amount of microfilmed church records from Swedish-American congregations in the Midwest.


Although few Swiss immigrated to Illinois, there were settlements in St. Clair County, in Galena, and in Madison County, the most important center of Swiss population in Illinois. UKRAINIANS


Kane County had a considerable Welsh population.